One of the more famous residents of the microbiome is Cutibacterium acnes, or C. Acnes, which is the bacterial strain linked to breakouts4. But it isn’t the villain it’s been made out to be. Often characterized as “pathogenic,” the bacteria’s actual role in the skin microbiome is quite complex. And to better understand how to care for our skin long term, it’s time we radically rethink the way we view C. Acnes in the beauty industry. 

Yes, C. Acnes is getting a rebrand. 

“When you say C. Acnes, it’s one bacterial species, but under that you have many, many, many strains. It’s like if you say you have a car—well it could be any kind of car. When we talk about C. Acnes as a species without getting into the strain level, you’re only scratching the surface,” says Pascal Yvon, Pharm.D., SVP, at S-Biomedic.

He goes on to explain that, yes, C. Acnes are involved in acne itself, but it’s not the proliferation of the species that is the problem (it’s actually the predominant strain of bacteria on the skin as a whole), it’s the loss of strain diversity that causes breakouts. “When you have a balance of the various strains of C. Acnes, you’ll have healthier skin. When there’s dysbiosis, that’s when you’ll develop acne,” he says. 

But our reawakening of C. Acnes doesn’t stop there. It’s not just its “pathogenic” reputation that we need to reevaluate. Researchers have discovered that it is incredibly influential in the ways our skin ages. 

What researchers have found that makes C. Acnes so beneficial for the skin is its role in producing the protein RoxP5, a protein that has incredible antioxidant properties. “The protein works synergistically with the antioxidants your skin cells naturally produce to protect your skin from oxidative damage,” he says. 

And this highly beneficial protein—that helps protect us from oxidative damage, that keeps our skin appearing healthy as we age—is only made by C. Acnes

Through this discovery they have found that if you can select the specific strains that produce RoxP, you can either replant them on your skin (through the use of probiotics) or circumvent this step and simply replace the byproduct, RoxP, itself (through the use of postbiotics). 

Essentially: Yes, an imbalanced C. Acnes community can lead to acne—but a thriving, diverse, and robust community can help your skin age better. It turns out that balance really is the key to longevity. 

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